Godzilla takes on the hero of Stuttgart in this Japan v Germany face-off.
Porsche will soon unveil its new 911 GT3, with a big event expected to occur either later this year or in January. What better time than now to look back on a favourite comparison? (It's about time for a new Godzilla, too, Nissan...)
If you placed me in a room with a Porsche 911 GT3 Touring Package and a Nissan GT-R Nismo and ordered me to pick just one to live with for the rest of my days, without first letting me drive them, I’d make a terrible decision.
Before these two ultimate tourers even arrived at CarAdvice’s Melbourne office, I had a sneaking suspicion I was going to be on Team Nissan.
Maybe it’s because Porsche's uninterrupted 911 history and dogged traditionalism seemed quaint alongside Nissan’s PlayStation-era tech fest. Perhaps turbochargers and four driven wheels just push my buttons more than a tuned atmo engine and widow-making rearward chassis balance.
For all of that, CarAdvice’s resident Porschephile, Mandy Turner, was on hand to remind me a free-breathing atmo engine with a redline north of 8000rpm mixed with a three-pedal dance to get power to the ground is a special gift unto itself.
Well, yes, there is that I suppose. There’s more than one way to skin a cat though, so surely we can both be right for our own armoury of reasons, can’t we?
As it turns out opinions can change and after a week of back-to-back testing between the 911 and GT-R, one of us changed our tune while the other could openly gloat about how right they were.
We took the pair out, spent days in search of the most exciting pieces of tarmac we could reach, and at times would even relent and swap cars to get a feel for what each of these motoring legends is capable of.
As a quick recap the 911 GT3 Touring Package is Porsche’s take on a more civil version of the nearly track-spec GT3. Same 368kW and 460Nm 4.0-litre flat six tucked behind the rear axle, but gone are the attention seeking fixed rear wing and lightweight Alcantara trim elements, replaced with a discreet pop-up spoiler and leather trim.
If Touring Package sounds a little close to the limited run 911 R in concept and performance, that’s because it is. Essentially, it's a full-time variant of the same, but with minor specification differences so as not to upset collectors who invested in an R.
The Nismo version of Nissan’s GT-R counters with a twin-turbo V6 rated at 441kW and 652Nm and not a trace of subtlety thanks to carbon accents on the front a rear bumpers, side skirts and rear wing to go with an already in-your-face styling direction.
Line 'em up side by side and the 911 GT3 Touring Package (as equipped with Porsche’s optional Sports Chrono package) will lay down a 0-100km/h run in a pert 3.8-seconds. Slip into the Nismo and repeat the feat, however, and you’ll stop the clock in a supercar rending 2.7-seconds.
The thing is, achieving a sub four-second time in the Porsche is still far more rewarding, even if you do get left for dead by the Nissan at the drag strip. Balancing the clutch, finding the sweet spot in the rev range, and getting the right mix of grip and aggression without overcooking it is a rewarding experience.
There is a basic version of launch control, which caps launch revs and maximises traction, but it’s a very different feeling compared to the Nissan.
By comparison, once you’ve set up the GT-R Nismo (set everything to R mode) and activated launch control (mash both pedals to the floor then jump off the brake and hold on tight) the electronics sort out torque distribution, stability control will trim the throttle if it needs to, and pretty all the heavy thinking is done for you.
It’s no less fun, but it’s a different kind of fun.
So what would your lottery windfall need to be to put one of these in your garage? The GT-R could be a budget buy at $299,000 before on roads costs.
The GT3 starts at $326,400 – the Touring Package is a no-cost upgrade, but a quick walk through the options sheet adds over $39,000 worth of items like Bose audio, dynamic LED headlights, red seat belts, a rear-view camera, red interior contrast stitching and more. Some you could live without, but Porsche’s individualisation game is strong.
You certainly couldn’t ask for two more different aesthetics. The 911 is, and 911s have always been, instantly identifiable as a member of its clan, round headlights up front and single curve flowing gracefully from windscreen to rear bumper over buxom flowing rear haunches.
The GT-R does have history, taking some inspiration from early versions of the Nissan Skyline. Standout features like circular stove-burner tail-lights trace their history back to the 1970s, but there aren't as many strong ties to the ghost of Skylines past.
Instead you get a stocky looking block of metal (well, composite in places) with a distinctive, and almost anime-warcraft, style.
Inside (and take note here, because it may be one of the very few times you’ll read this) Porsche’s decor is almost a work in minimalism compared to the GT-R. Usually a 911’s interior looks button-strewn and jet-pilot complex, but next to the variety of toggles, textures and screens inside the Nissan, the GT3 is actually a bit lovely.
Again, tradition takes the lead placing a large analogue tachometer straight ahead of the driver, flanked by a pair of less traditional, but still lovely to look at, screens for everything from navigation maps, to radio station info, to advanced telemetry.
Oddly enough the interior is one place where Mandy and I disagreed, though I can see her logic.
“The interior feels a bit underwhelming, not quite what you’d expect in a car worth $326,000,” she said when she first climbed into the driver’s seat. “I do love how Porsche have kept the classic five-dial analogue gauges though.”
You might imagine the Nismo features a high-definition digital instrument cluster, or a jet fighter-inspired head-up display, but you’re in for a rude surprise. The festival-of-analogue gauge array is hardly cutting-edge tech, with a few dated looking LCD windows for support, betraying the GT-R’s 2007 origins.
There’s more in-touch tech in the 8.0-inch infotainment system: a touchscreen with a console controller. It’s still way behind the pace of the most contemporary systems, with pixelated graphics and interfaces from the early days of capacitive tech, but at least it provides more telemetry info than you could ever realistically need for anything short of a competitive track day.
Of course, if you’re casually spraying over $300,000 at the gyprock, infotainment interfaces and dial fonts aren’t ever going to be your primary concern, but they’re still important.
Sadly, in the case of the Nismo, Mandy delivered a cutting and inescapable truism.
“Is it a car that feels like $299,000? No. Maybe take the '2' and turn it in a '1', and then we're bang on the money.”
Putting these two side by side only serves to highlight the difference between the artfully designed 911 interior, and the hodge-podge of Nissan parts bin components grouped together in what looks like an almost haphazard way.
Performance is a much better metric by which to measure the potential of a high end sports car, a race weapon for the road, or dare I say in the company of these two… a supercar.
That makes the GT-R’s figures hard to beat, but unless you’re looking to take home class silverware from your local motorsport gathering, the 911 GT3 makes a rather compelling case for itself on the strength of its road-devouring tendencies.
The engine is, no doubt, one of the most exciting to take residence in an automobile. Just think of the logistics of that thing, it’s a 4.0-litre mill developing peak power at a screaming 8250rpm.
I’m sure I’ll be crucified for the comparison, but the ol’ faithful Ford Falcon six of the same size couldn't muster as much grunt, even with a turbocharger attached. Meanwhile the Porsche engine isn’t so much naturally aspirated as it is supernaturally aspirated.
Any flex of your ankle on the accelerator results in a corresponding rise in engine revs. Get silly with it and stomp the skinny pedal to the carpet and the sudden deep breath of air results in a whip-crack of intake noise from behind your head and acceleration that’s near-devastating thanks to its screaming rapidity.
The noise is monstrous and multifaceted, growing from an angry growl and low to mid revs, to a howling roar at the start of its mid-range, right on 3000rpm, and turning into a chorus of finely-timed cannon fire from 6500rpm until you finally relent and snick the next gear.
The six-speed manual is the type which invites you to work it as much as possible – it’s not always necessary, there’s enough torque to keep things ticking along happily enough – but it’s mechanically precise, smooth and weighted just right.
“Changing gears in a 911 with your arm, as opposed to fingers on a shift paddle, is such a marvellous feeling,” Mandy beamed from the driver’s seat after stringing together a series of slow-entry, fast-exit corners demanding of a serious exploration of transmission capabilities.
“The gearbox feels so mechanical... each gear selection makes this precision clunking sound as everything meshes into place!”
As lovely as it all might be, the touring part of the GT3 Touring Package is let down a little by a lack of long-range comfort, dished out by jarring suspension (relentlessly grippy, though it may be), an exhaust that hits its done-pitch at Australian highway cruising speeds, and in this particular car fixed-back bucket seats (an $8870 option) which don’t offer enough backrest rake to fit my short leg/long arm monkey proportions.
Somehow those little quibbles melt away at the first corner though. The steering response, like the throttle, is so instantaneous it feels like the car could just about be driven via subconscious suggestion at times.
Tip into the first bend and the front end feels gracefully lithe, although the wheel itself imparts a solid weighting.
The result is a secure agility, enhanced by a yaw centre much further rearward than usually found in front-, or even mid-engined cars. The effect is subtle, but as your core moves to brace itself within the driver’s seat, your sense of balance can pick the difference.
The days of hi-po Porsches as widow makers may be gone (of course you can still balls things up in any car if you try hard enough). Thanks to a safety net of electronic support systems, and continual work on chassis engineering, the GT3 feels perfectly stable even with the feel of a pendulous rear end that can be swung out by the brave, or overconfident.
The GT3 is a genuine dying breed though. Rear-engined cars can be counted on one hand, with the 911 keeping esteemed company with cars like the Smart ForTwo, Smart ForFour, Renault Twingo and until last year, the Tata Nano as the remaining supporters of the layout.
Atmo performance engines don’t appear to be the way forward for much longer, either. Lamborghini has stuck with them, Ferrari hasn’t and Porsche has slowly turbocharged most of its range. This generation GT3 could potentially be the last of its kind, then.
Nissan’s chosen path is considerably more mainstream, with the GT-R’s twin turbo 3.8-litre V6 occupying space at the front of the car, channeling torque to all four wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
In both engineering and philosophical terms, these two really couldn’t be more different, and despite the rising popularity of some of Nissan’s chosen engineering solutions, the GT-R remains a rare bird.
If the 911 is the best of analogue, then the GT-R Nismo is the best of digital – in a pre-EV sense. Or at least, it’s the best of digital from a decade ago.
Its age, though obvious in some of the user interfaces, hasn’t totally wearied it though. Particularly if you like your cars ballistically fast.
Perhaps the most tell-tale difference is the throttle reaction. Although the Nissan may be quick in maximum attack mode, the time taken for turbos to build boost, and the dual-clutch transmission to hook up, creates a stark contrast to the whip-crack responsiveness of the 911.
Once boost arrives though, the GT-R Nismo uses every single crankshaft revolution from 3000rpm onward to mind-bending effect. With all four tyres clawing at the pavement, the feel from the driver’s seat is like being flung out of a giant catapult.
There’s even a more forgiving ride in the adaptive dampers’ comfort mode, though toggle through normal and R settings and things firm up to rock hard and rock-even-harder. Steering, is brilliantly quick to react, though the feedback suffers from a touch of woolliness and doesn’t always impart the same road-to-neuron connection as the 911.
After obliterating a hillside pass Mandy wasn’t impressed.
“I didn't like the steering feel. Although it was direct, it was too light. It requires both hands on the wheel at all times, as any bump in the road will pull the car into it.”
There’s also a weapons-grade risk every time you pull the pin on the Nismo grenade. It will scream from corner to corner like it’s glued to the road in most instances.
Given its volatility though, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to find, that in an on-boost split-second, the GT-R will gleefully kick all four tyres in anti-bitumen direction, with fervent zeal. Not because it’s wild and uncontrollable, but because the laws of physics dictate tyres can only hold 1700+ kilograms of g-force stressing Nissan to the tarmac for so long.
Here was where I had my epiphany. Here was where the age old mantra of ‘driving slow cars fast is better than driving fast cars slow’ came true.
Of course neither of these two is slow, but one is slower than the other. In day-to-day terms you’d probably never notice, and on weekdays between track sessions the instant tappable urge of the 911 GT3 makes it feel more excitable than the wait-for-boost Nissan GT-R Nismo.
So I decided that the now past-prime tech of the GT-R might still be the answer for ripping the heart out of personal-best track times, but it does it in a remote and impersonal way. You know you’re going fast, you know every corner will be dispatched with ruthless precision and accuracy, and you kind of sit there and watch without participating.
The old chestnut of driver engagement, being responsible for your own outcomes, getting in and actually driving the car, running the risk of f***ing things up – perfectly encapsulates the GT3 experience, and that’s what finally got me in the end.
The 911 is an icon for a reason – of course the GT-R is too, albeit a fairly different reason with an entirely disparate cultural background – and the Porsche history and evolution shines in the GT3. It feels like a race car, a real tangible race car free from video game clichés.
It’s a lottery win pipe dream for me, sure, but it’s a tangible one. Where I thought a Nissan GT-R Nismo could be my once in a lifetime garage star it turns out the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring Package might be the car I choose to live with for the rest of my days.
It all depends how sizeable my inevitable lottery win is, but I reckon this could be the week my numbers come up. Maybe. Hopefully.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We've left this comparison unscored. Enjoy the read, see you on the next one.